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Wednesday, 26 March 2008
The First Battle of Gaza, Palestine, 26 to 27 March 1917, Falls Account Part 14
Topic: BatzP - 1st Gaza

The First Battle of Gaza

Palestine, 26 to 27 March 1917

Falls Account Part 14

General Sir Archibald James Murray GCMG, KCB, CVO, DSO (23 April 1860 - 21 January 1945)


The following is an extract of the Falls Account from the the Official British War History volumes on Egypt written by Falls, C.; and, MacMunn, G., Military operations: Egypt and Palestine, (London 1928), pp. 279 - 325 detailing the British role at the First Battle of Gaza, Palestine, 26 to 27 March 1917.


Chapter XVII The First Battle of Gaza (Continued).

The First Battle of Gaza.

Telegrams between Sir A. Murray and the C.I.G.S.

From - General Officer Commanding-in-Chief, Egypt,

To - Chief of the Imperial General Staff.

No. O.A. 377. 28th March 1917.

We have advanced our troops a distance of 15 miles from Rafah to Wadi Ghazze, to cover construction of railway. On the 26th and 27th we were heavily engaged east of the Ghazze with a force of about 20,000 of the enemy. We inflicted very heavy losses on him; I estimate his casualties at between 6,000 and 7,000 men, and we have in addition taken 900 prisoners including General Commanding and whole Divisional Staff of 53rd Turkish Division. This figure includes 4 Austrian officers and 32 Austrian and 5 German other ranks. We captured two Austrian 4.2-inch howitzers. All troops behaved splendidly, especially the Welsh, Kent, Sussex, Hereford, Middlesex and Surrey Territorials, and the Anzac and Yeomanry mounted troops.

From - Chief of the Imperial General Staff,

To - General Officer Commanding-in-Chief, Egypt.

No. 31854, cipher. 30th March 1917.

Reference my letter O. 1/45/151 of 11th January. As a result of your recent success and our progress in Mesopotamia the situation has materially altered since the instructions quoted above were issued. The Turks, according to my information, have not now south of Jerusalem a force of more than 30,000 fighting troops, and their supply and transport situation makes it very doubtful if they can maintain more than 60,000 men south of that place. At present, indications point to fact that Turks are anxious about situation on Tigris and on Persian frontier and are diverting reinforcements to that theatre. In these circumstances, and as you are assured of reinforcements during the summer, your immediate objective should be the defeat of the Turkish forces south of Jerusalem and the occupation of that town. Your progress must, of course, depend upon the state of your communications, and until you are satisfied in that respect 1 do not wish to press you to advance, and I know you will continue to perfect your communications with the utmost energy. I am satisfied that your recent operations have assured the defence of Egypt, and that you need not now lock up troops for the protection of the Canal except against such damage as very small parties of raiders or enemy agents can effect, I hope this will enable you to concentrate more troops for offensive purposes. Your subsequent operations after you reach Jerusalem must depend largely on what the Russian Caucasus Army is able to achieve, I am assured that about the end of April they mean to advance on Mosul in force and if they do this it should prevent any considerable diversion of Turkish force against you, and may enable you to advance beyond Jerusalem. I will keep you fully informed of Russian plans and movements and will issue further instructions as may be necessary in due course.

From - General Officer Commanding-in-Chief, Egypt,

To - War Office.

No. A.M. 1741. 30th March 1917.

In view of probability of my having early in April to attack a number of strongly fortified localities, which will necessitate extensive preparatory bombardments with heavy artillery, I should be very glad if I might, as early as possible, be supplied with more ammunition for my 6-inch and 8-inch howitzers, my stock of which is low, and should be increased, in order to meet probable requirements, by at least 2,000 rounds 6-inch and 1,500 rounds 8-inch. In view of the urgency of this demand I would suggest that these might perhaps be supplied from France, in order to facilitate shipping arrangements, and expedite arrival in this country. Further, with reference to your No. 30329, A. 2, 2nd March, in reply to my No. A.'M. 1648, 1st March, as, in the course of these operations, use of gas shell will possibly be necessary, I trust that the supply of additional gas shells asked for in above-quoted telegram may now be arranged and their despatch treated as a matter of great urgency.

From - Chief of the Imperial General Staff,

To - General Officer Commanding-in-Chief, Egypt.

No. 31898, cipher. 31st March, 1917.

With regard to your fight on the 26th and 27th, War Cabinet wishes to have more details. State what force you employed and what enemy forces you have identified. As your operations affect other theatres, it is important we should always have this latter information as quickly as possible. It is always necessary also to send fuller particulars than you have yet furnished, though not necessarily for publication.

(Sir A. Murray's reply [numbered A.M. 1749] to No. 31854 of the 30th March, sent on 31st, has been outlined in the text.)

From - General Officer Commanding-in-Chief, Egypt,

To - Chief of the Imperial General Staff.

No. A.M. 1751. 1st April 1917. Your No. 31898, 31st March.

Intention - First, to seize the line of the Wadi Ghazze so as to protect the advance of railway from Rafah to Gaza. Secondly, to prevent at all costs the enemy from retiring without a fight, which we knew to be his plan as regards his troops in Gaza, Tell esh Sheria, and Beersheba, as soon as we approached a little nearer than Rafah. Thirdly, to capture Gaza by a coins de main if possible.

Command-General Dobell in command of whole force. General Chetwode in command of mounted troops and 53rd Division, acting as advanced troops to protect the. march and to capture Gaza if possible. General Dobell had the 52nd and 54th Divisions as main body to secure Wadi and support Chetwode. Advanced General Headquarters at f:1 Arish. All troops actively engaged for whom it was possible to provide water, munitions, and supplies.

Starting point - For the mounted troops, Rafah. Small oasis to the east for infantry wherever there was water. If the mounted troops had been placed closer to Gaza Turks would have evacuated without a fight, hence reason for keeping back, also easier to water and feed.

Weather - Morning of 26th, dense fog till 11 a.m. much delayed operations; 27th and 28th, hot winds, and temperature over 90 in the shade.

Water - No water between Deir el Balah and Gaza or to the north and east.

Operations on 26th-Gaza enveloped by dusk, and first-line trenches taken by 53rd Division; heaviest loss to enemy and 700 or 800 prisoners taken. Enemy blew up his wireless station and reported to von Kress that he must surrender. About 1 p.m. von Kress started his relief columns from Huj, Sheria and Beersheba, and also 53rd Division, moved from Lydda, arrived El Majdal unexpectedly; our mounted troops assisted by armoured cars, all most brilliantly led, fought delaying action all day and, without much loss to themselves, inflicted very heavy losses on all these separate columns. Among other captures, they took the commander and staff of 53rd Turkish Division, and I estimate the above enemy losses at over 5,000. Most probably Gaza would have fallen before dusk but for morning fog. Chetwode decided that he must not let his cavalry be enveloped by converging Turkish columns, so drew off towards main body and thus enabled Gaza to be reinforced during the night or early morning. Position of our 53rd Division at dusk on high ground, Ali Muntar, just south of Gaza, with some troops in the Turkish defences. 54th Division on prolonging ridge to Sheikh Abbas. Wadi Ghazze and right flank made secure by 52nd Division. Primary object attained.

Operations on 27th -

Turks attacked 53rd and 54th Divisions and Camel Corps in entrenched positions. They were not in the least successful at any point, and again suffered the heaviest losses, e.g., Camel Corps nearly annihilated Turkish Cavalry Division. I estimate enemy losses at 3,000 on this day. Cavalry and camelry had to move back to El Balah to water, horses not having had any for 24 hours and camels for 4 days. The infantry managed on their water bottles.

It was obvious that if we could advance the 52nd, 53rd and 54th Divisions this evening, Gaza would have been taken, and the Turks must have retired, but want of water, fatigue of horses, and distance of railhead prevented this.

Operations on 28th -

Enemy would not advance to attack again, and mostly occupied Gaza defences. Our cavalry remained in contact, and the infantry withdrew without a fight behind the 52nd Division's prepared position.

Troops of enemy engaged:

The whole of 3rd Cavalry Division, 3rd and 16th Infantry Divisions, and part of 27th and 53rd Infantry Divisions.

Our captures -

Prisoners, 950; two 4.2-inch Austrian howitzers.

Our casualties -

Killed, 47 officers, 351 other ranks.

Wounded, about 2,900.

Missing, probably prisoners, less than 200.

Of the wounded, about 2,000 are slight cases, which I am informed will be able to rejoin shortly. The missing men probably fought their way after dark right into the streets of Gaza.

(The concluding paragraph of this message has been given in full in the text.)

From - Chief of the Imperial General Staff,

To - General Officer Commanding-in-Chief, Egypt.

No. 32017, cipher. 2nd April 1917.

War Cabinet have even careful consideration to your No. A.M. 1749, 31st March [the telegram of that date referred to above] and ask me to tell you that they think that, being at a distance, you may not fully realize the great importance of your operations. Everyone is now feeling the strain of the war, and this strain will certainly increase: therefore, the moral effect of success is of great importance, both in strengthening the hands of the Government and in making the public more ready to bear their burdens. For a variety of obvious reasons, success in Palestine will have a very inspiriting effect in Christendom. War Cabinet are anxious therefore that your operations should be pushed with all energy. The general situation of the Turks must also be considered. There is much unrest in Constantinople, and undoubtedly the Turks are more exhausted by the war than any of our enemies, and success on your part, combined with recent events in Mesopotamia, must have great effect, I do not underrate in any way the fighting capacity of the enemy opposed to you, but after careful consideration of what the enemy can do, I see no reason why, with the reinforcements detailed for Egypt, you should not be completely successful if you can employ offensively all the troops at your disposal. Let me know at once if you are not satisfied as to this. Requisite drafts will receive every attention. I am asked by the War Cabinet to enquire further whether you are getting all that you require as regards guns, munitions, transport, and war material generally, and you may rest assured that we will do our utmost to meet your demands.
Am I to understand that you have definitely decided to lay your line along the coast to Jaffa, in preference to a linking up with the Beersheba railway? If so, report reasons for this, and also give statement of railway proposals in general. If you have decided to go to Jaffa, I am informed that you will have material to take you there.


Previous:  Falls Account Part 13, The Battle from German and Turkish Sources.

Next:  Falls Account Part 15, The Evacuation of the Wounded.



Further Reading:

The First Battle of Gaza, Palestine, 26 to 27 March 1917

The First Battle of Gaza, Palestine, 26 to 27 March 1917, Allied Forces, Roll of Honour

The Palestine Campaign, 1917 - 1918

Battles where Australians fought, 1899-1920


Citation: Falls Account Part 14, Telegrams between Sir A. Murray and the C.I.G.S.

Posted by Project Leader at 12:01 AM EADT
Updated: Friday, 18 February 2011 8:31 PM EAST

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